There are very few things about windsurfing that are easy. After all we are dealing with an invisible element that changes at the whims of Mother Nature.
Speaking from personal experience, having an obsession with such a volatile sport means that you develop a keen ability for highly efficient forecast scanning.
Essentially this means anomalies showing: A. large and powerful swells B. strong winds or C. all of the above, attract excessive levels of attention resulting in shuffling around obligations, freeing up time and phone calls to potentially interested parties. As all windsurfers know, from time to time these efforts can be wasted when the forecast suddenly pulls a dreaded 180 on you and evaporates off the charts. Take a punt, roll the dice and make it happen anyway because it could be bloody awesome. If it isn’t, you still have a story to tell.
Given that context, we are waking up at 5:30am, on the first day of winter. Snow is forecast to be coming down the low-lying surrounds of the mountain ranges. It is freezing. Rugged up, we jump in the car to start the drive to the boat ramp. The boat is already packed to the hilt, missions like this require spares and a bit of preplanning. Surely we would forget something crucial in our predawn stupor if we didn’t pack the night before. Unsurprisingly the road is empty, and even more unsurprisingly so is the boat ramp. It is a bit before 7am, still dark and things have warmed up to 6 degrees. Not exactly your typical boating weather.
Things go without a hitch and we are off and away. A large rain squall is pushing up in front of us as the morning sun starts to pop above the horizon. We aren’t going to get wet but at some point our path may cross with another squall, and honestly if that happens it isn’t going to be pleasant. The boat is gliding through the flat water effortlessly, brushed by the Antarctic offshore breeze, until we come around the corner and start to feel the signs of the big swell we came for. The boat starts pitching gently at first, but then builds. The swell has wrapped so far around that we are already salivating at the thought of what we might score. That feeling of anticipation is not unlike taking a pretty girl out on a date, nerves and excitement – what is going to happen?
The sun bursts through the clouds in a display of cold golden light, we are alone at sea. No one else has bothered with this sort of weather. The wind is starting to howl and the ride isn’t so smooth now, bashing into the chop. In the distance we spot our final destination, things look unruly but it is really hard to tell until you get close. Given the size of the swell forecast, it was hard to know what to expect. The night before I had dreams of huge gaping barrels, running down and detonating on the shallow sand bank. Pulling the boat up, the currents are wreaking havoc and the sand bar seems to be broken in two. Unfortunately, things haven’t quite lived up to the potential that this spot has. The wind is strong as the squalls pass through, before dropping down to only a few knots. Not exactly ideal, but given that the odd wave is a racey barrel offering potential for a good aerial or two it is definitely worth getting wet.
The air temp is still in the single digits as we get stuck into it. Drifting into the line up, gives me plenty of time to watch an awesome looking set grind through the end bowl of the wave. Logo high, totally barrelling. Waves like that usually belong in the tropics somewhere like Mauritius or Gnaraloo. Getting out the back the wind picks up, although so too does the current. Essentially taking half of your board speed away. Sailing powered up but unable to plane until you pump onto a swell is a weird feeling.
The wind is so fluky that positioning and catching the bomb set waves is challenging. If you are too far inside, the wave just bottoms out under you. Under powered air drops whilst windsurfing is an interesting challenge… One wave in particular stands out. The swell only seemed to be about head high or so, pumping just to sneak onto the thing and simultaneously getting feet into the straps ready for acceleration. Within a split second the wave dredges on the sand bar and suddenly, the board is totally airborne dropping into a logo high barrel. The wave has instantly doubled in size. There is barely any wind in the sail, and the nose of the board just catches slightly stopping any forward momentum. The wall stretches out, bending back in on itself forming a thick lip. This is the sort of view that you purposely hunt for on a surfboard, but flapping a sail at the bottom of a wave like that is certainly not ideal. Death to your mast and sail are quite probable at this point. With nowhere to go but up, aiming the board for the sky an attempt is made to punch the rig out of the pit sacrificing myself in the process. The whole section doubles up swallowing me, but just misses my sail.
Popping back up, the rig has sailed itself down the line just enough to dodge another heaving barrel on the wave behind. Swimming through the next wave and laughing at how everything worked out, I am reunited with my gear and head off to go snag another few waves. Before too long though, the tide turns and the wind fades. Unable to sail against the current it is a matter of sitting on my board and awaiting rescue. After a few minutes we are back on the boat, packing up and ready for home with new stories to tell. The few stand out moments will keep the memory bank satiated until the next time the anomaly of a pumping forecast comes around.
All photos by Chris Carey/Zaz Photo